More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

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Academic performance top cause of teen stress
August 23, 2007

Poll: School is main worry for 13-17 year olds, jobs for those ages 18-24

NEW YORK (Associated Press) -- Stressed out by your high-pressured job? Don?t assume your kid is any less stressed out by school. Especially if she?s a she.

Young people experience stress at a high rate, and females more than males, an extensive Associated Press/MTV survey shows. A similar divide exists in terms of fears and safety: Girls and young women are less likely to feel safe in their neighborhoods, in schools, or from terror attacks.

The source of stress changes as we get older, the survey shows. Among 13-17 year olds, school is by far the most commonly mentioned source. Among 18-24 year olds, it?s jobs and financial matters. In all, fully 85 percent of young people said they felt stress at least sometimes.

?I?m a pretty high-stressed person,? says Katie Duda, 21, who?s finishing up a degree in culinary arts and awaiting the birth of her first child in a few weeks. ?But if I?m not stressed out, I?m bored.? Right now, it?s the responsibility of parenthood that is stressful to Duda, who lives in Bakersfield, Calif.

?It?s the unknown of it all,? she says. ?Not the birth itself, but the next 18 years.?

Academic pressures
Tenth-grader Madelyn Dancy of Memphis has a whole other set of concerns. She wants badly to excel in school so she can fulfill her dream ? and the hopes of her family ? of becoming a doctor. ?That?s why I work so hard,? says the 15 year old. ?They?re looking at me to do something in my life that they couldn?t do.? For her, stress comes from schoolwork, and ?having to do so much in so little time.? She also plays lacrosse and tries to have a life outside school.

?It?s going pretty well,? says Dancy. ?I?ve hit all my goals, but I?m setting more.?

Kelly O?Brien has goals, too ? the 20 year old from Santa Rosa, Calif. plans to finish her business administration degree within a year, get married two years from now, and later have a family and own a home. Stress comes from balancing her schoolwork with two part-time jobs, as a bookkeeper and as a candy store clerk.

?It?s always in the back of my mind,? says O?Brien of the financial pressures of young adulthood. ?Right now I?m comfortable, but I?ve had friends my age who?ve actually bought a home. I?m like, ?How can they do that???

In the survey, 45 percent of girls and young women reported experiencing stress frequently, to 32 percent of boys and young men. Those from urban areas experienced it more frequently than those in rural areas, and surprisingly, those from middle-income households had it more frequently than those from both lower and higher-income households. (Middle-income was defined as between $50,000 and $75,000.)

High stress no surprise
Psychologist Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University, is not surprised by the high stress rate in the AP-MTV survey ? a rate 10 points higher than the 75-percent rate among adults in an AP-Ipsos poll last year.

?Anxiety is higher among adolescents,? says Twenge, the author of ?Generation Me.? ?Thankfully, it tends to wane in their 20s and 30s.? Another explanation, she says, is the difference in generations; anxiety and depression are rising from generation to generation. (The teen suicide rate is down from 15-20 years ago, however, she says ? a result of better medication.) Twenge is also not surprised by the male-female divide, which has been documented in other ways.

What is surprising is the higher rate for those from middle-income households, she says: ?You?d expect those from a disadvantaged background to have more anxiety.?

Though most feel safe in their neighborhoods and schools, only 25 percent feel ?very safe? from terror attacks. Yet when asked about the general threat of terrorism, most say they don?t think about it very often, and haven?t changed how they lead their lives.

?It does cross my mind, but it?s not a big worry,? says Cory Walseth, 19, a construction worker in Thief River Falls, Minn.

For Dancy, the high-school student from Memphis, it?s simply counterproductive to think too much about things like the threat of terrorism.

?The thought is always there,? she says. ?I just don?t want to let it run my life.?

Daniel E.
The top three back-to-school stresses for teens - The Globe and Mail
August 25, 2011

There is no greater source of stress for most teens than heading back to school.

This anxiety affects kids of all types – from slackers to perfectionists, jocks to prom queens. It is true for kids who struggle at school, get poor grades and have few friends. But it’s also true for academically and socially high-functioning kids. September is a major transition for everyone (parents included).

Every teen feels their problem is unique, that no one has ever felt quite like they do. But, I’ve found that their worries generally fall into three categories (and some teens may worry about all three.)

Social anxiety

Even for kids who have had a lot of contact with friends over the summer, particularly over social media, physically returning to school is still a difficult adjustment.

“I am there in person. Walking down the hall. People looking at me. Me looking at them. And I feel they’re judging me. How I look. How I act. What I say. I am way more exposed. All the drama that goes on, it goes up a notch.”

The bottom line: Being back at school is a very big deal. It brings back all of the extreme self-consciousness that is such a large part of the school experience for teens.

Worries about the future

“Now I’m officially one more year closer to being out of school, when I have to go out in the world and somehow support myself. How am I ever going to do that? Can’t I just live in my parents’ basement, forever?”

As little kids, the future is far enough away that they feel insulated from it. But with each new school year, that day of reckoning looms closer and closer. Each new school year ratchets up that lurking terror. Just thinking about their future overwhelms them with anxiety. For some teens, one of the appealing things about marijuana is that it can effectively remove that worry and keep their focus in the here and now.

Stress about schoolwork

There’s no way around it: School requires you to work. Whether it’s a teen struggling to pass, or one who struggles to get all A’s, the stress is there. They worry they won’t be able to stay on top of it. They worry there’ll be too much homework, and that the demands will take over their lives. Some worry that they will give up or not work as much they need to.

“Yes, high school would actually be excellent if they didn’t make you work. That’s what ruins it.”

How can a parent help them cope?

Get them to school. Some teens, for precisely all of the reasons above, don’t want to go that first day. They complain of being sick. You want to be very careful how you deal with this. Make sure they truly are sick, because once they start missing school, the difficulties mount. Get them there.

Talk to them. Let them know that you understand that the beginning of school can be stressful. It can seem a little strange, even overwhelming, getting back into a routine, but all kids feel this way. Reassure them that if they do feel apprehensive about it, they are not alone. And questions like, “Are you sure you have everything you’re going to need? Everything in your backpack?” They feel this kind of parental fussing is a bit demeaning, but at the same time reassuring. It is not all on their shoulders.

And talk to them about their future. Their plans. Talk about the possibilities of what they might do once high school is over. Talk about more than one option. They may want to fend off planning for the future, but burying it only makes the fears grow worse – and harder to face.

Set a work schedule. Kids hate this. They can be infinitely optimistic about how they really are going to get their act together. Unlike last year.

“Yes, I don’t want my parents to make a work schedule for me. I want the freedom to be in charge of it.”

Most teens don’t want their parents to get involved in scheduling their life. They do all they can to resist it.

“The more my parents try to get me to do my schoolwork, the more I don’t do it.”

That’s actually not true. They may hate it. But your involvement does make a difference – if only to say that there are certain times when they are not allowed to do anything other than schoolwork.

Some kids are good workers and genuinely do not need the guidance. You will know whether you have such a kid. But most do need it.

The start of the school year is stressful for all teens. Be aware of it. Be as compassionate as you can. It is an important time for you to be involved. Even just being a cheerleader can help them get back in the swing of things.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books and runs
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